Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cholera Day 5: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 5: Thursday, January 24, 2013

(Note: From here, the tone of my journal changes somewhat, because it was written down three weeks after the fact instead of right at the time.) 

I got up in the morning and went back to the hospital. Kerlande and Clauciane went home. I worked with Annita and Roselord and Manette.

During the course of the day, the hospital told us that they were releasing four of the babies: Hope, David, Nadiya, and Ugnel. I texted Joanne and told her, and I asked the hospital if it was okay if we waited until the car got here to pick us up. They said it would be fine, and we waited. I planned to go home with the babies and stay the night at Joanne’s, with Kerlande and Clauciane coming back to cover the night shift.

One thing that we instituted for the first time that day was a sheet of paper recording every little thing about each of the babies. We wrote down the time and amount of every feeding, diaper change, bowel movement, or throw up. After the breathless state of emergency we had continually been in for the past several days, it felt good to finally get on top of things and have a bit of a system and organize our care a bit. Twice a day, the nurses would ask us for each child, “How many times did they have diarrhea? Did they pee? Did they vomit?” and we had so many people changing diapers, and so many children altogether, that it was impossible to remember or accurately count up the number of times. This information was vital for the doctors and nurses to know so that they could make appropriate decisions about the babies’ care, so getting it down on paper with an accurate count was a very important and useful step.

All day, we waited for the car to come to take the released babies home, and the hospital was very patient with us for delaying so long. Many, many people were in the waiting room, and the hospital desperately needed these cribs to open up for other children.

Joanne’s husband Doug finally came at around 9:00 pm. I was so ready to go home and get a night’s worth of sleep. The nurses had a shift change at 7:00, so the people who had told me about the babies who were released were no longer at the hospital. The nurse on duty came up and rattled off five names, not four. Hope, David, Nadiya, Ugnel, and Pranel.

I looked at her with surprise. “Pranel?” I said. “But he vomited a ton today.” I indicated the sheet of paper, where no one had as many instances of vomit (or anything) as he did. The nurse squinted at the paper suspiciously and grudgingly admitted that he had. “Okay, we’ll keep him for observation,” she announced. “The rest can go.” I was utterly grateful for the fact that we had written everything down today. If not, we might have been expected to take home a still-very-sick baby. It was surprising that Pranel should still be this bad, since he had been here the longest, but nevertheless, such were the facts.

Doug asked me if the babies who were being released were free of cholera, and I honestly answered that I didn’t know. He asked the nurse if these four children had tested negative for cholera. (All the children tested positive upon admittance to the hospital.)

It just so happened that this particular nurse, who had a heart of gold when caring for the children, came across as very gruff and defensive when dealing with people. So when Doug asked her about the children’s symptoms, she lashed out with a tirade to the effect that, “If the doctor said these children were fit to be released, then they are fit to be released. You will not come in here and alter the hospital’s policies. The children are going home because we say so.”

Doug shot back, “But have they been tested?”

The answer was no.

Doug shook his head. “I’m just asking that they be tested. I want a negative test result before I can bring them into my house. I have fourteen other children to think about. I can’t have children coming into my house who are still contagious for cholera. I’m responsible for all of them, not just these.”

The nurse adamantly repeated her statements about the children's fitness for release.

Doug adamantly repeated his insistence that the children be tested.

The nurse adhered to the hospital’s policies and the doctor’s word and walked away.

Doug went over to me and softly said into my ear, “In a few minutes, I am going to walk out the door and go home. Do you want to get to sleep tonight? You can go with me if you want to. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to go or stay, but if you want to go home and get some rest, I’m going home now.” He walked away to give me some time to ponder the decision.

What a blow! I was tired, and there was no doubt that I wanted to sleep that night. Of course I did. But far stronger was the absolute certainty that it would be the height of irresponsibility for me to walk out the door with Doug and abandon these babies, forcing the hospital to deal with their presence. I walked to the corner of the room and lifted my eyes to the Lord.

“Lord, what do you say that I do?” I asked.

“Stay,” He replied.

So I told Doug I was staying. “Okay,” he said with a shrug and a helpless tone of voice. “If you don’t want to get a good night’s sleep, that’s up to you.”

I looked at him and said perfectly calmly, “It’s not that I don’t want to sleep tonight. I do. I just think I should stay. I perfectly respect your decision, and I don’t accuse you in any way.” What I did not say was, “For you and me to both leave would be scandalous and highly offensive to the staff at this hospital. We were turned away from three hospitals before they took us into this one. I’m saving your skin if any of the children at your house DO come down with cholera, so they don’t turn you out at the door at the sight of your face.”

Doug walked out of the hospital and went home, oblivious to the affront he was causing, not just to me, but to the hospital staff and to all the waiting parents who needed a crib to lie their child in for the night. His request that they be tested, though reasonable enough on the surface, could not be complied with. According to information I later received from an American nurse, cholera remains contagious for seven days after the last appearance of symptoms, so they would have still tested positive, but after a person is symptom-free for 24 hours, they are technically “over” the cholera and the hospital releases them because they can now eat and drink normally again, with normal defecation and urination.

When Doug had left, I went over to the nurse who had so forcefully argued with him. “Madam,” I said. She looked up in surprise, hard lines of contention still visible on her face. “I don’t know what to do,” I went on in Creole. “I agree with you that these babies should be released. However, that man has absolutely refused to let the children into his house. I don’t know where else to go or what to do with them.” Her face softened. She understood my plight. I knew no one in Port. It was already 9:30 at night. Who would take them, even if I did have contacts?

I walked back to the corner of the room and lifted my eyes to the Lord again.

“Lord,” I said, “what do I do now?”

“Make a phone call,” he said.

I wanted to call Heather and spill out a story of indignation in her ear, but she was in the US. I called Ryan F instead. His wife picked up the phone. “Oh, how are you?” she asked.

“I’ve been better,” I said with a sigh. Then I quickly added, “The babies and I are fine, there’s no new danger,” sensing that my words could be interpreted all sorts of ways. Then I briefly summed up the story to her. She briefly summed up the story to her husband and handed him the phone.

“Okay, give me a second,” he said. “I have an idea for a plan. Let me make a phone call and get back to you.”

Intrigued, I said goodbye and hung up the phone. An idea for a plan? This was unexpected news.

He called back and said that there was a woman named Mallery who was coming to pick up the babies. She was someone who had been contacted about taking in some of the evacuated babies, but it had never actually been confirmed. Nevertheless, she had been working all that day to make preparations to take in five of our kids. She had staff, a nurse, and a location to take care of the kids. They were on their way and would be at the hospital in a few minutes. Ryan had given her my phone number and said that she would be calling me shortly.

Mallery called after I hung up the phone, and her husband, Frentz, a Haitian, spoke with the nurse to find out precise directions to the hospital. They arrived in a white van and I met them outside and led them in to meet the babies. We collected the four who were being released. The nurse still had her hackles up and refused to speak anything but French with Mallery and her friend, Gail, who was also a nurse. Gail had a few questions about the medication the children had received, and Mallery, who spoke perfect Creole (being married to a Haitian) was trying to translate for her, but the nurse wasn’t making things any easier.

However, just before we left, the nurse snuck up to me with a genuine relief and kindness in her eyes, laid her hand on my arm, and said, “Miss Rebekah, thank you.” I knew that there was more meaning behind those simple words than behind many a flowery phrase spoken by more flattering lips. I comprehended how much gossip would have flown, how much complaining about these arrogant, unfeeling white people, who thought they ruled the world and wouldn’t remove the children from the hospital, etc. etc. etc., that was now stopped, prevented from ever happening in the first place.

For my part, I was just in a daze of admiration at God. The exit that He provided when all possible options seemed closed up was so perfect, I felt like He was simply showing off for my delight and amazement, doing His work with a flourish.

I accompanied the little party of believers in their van and we drove to their house. On the way, I heard stories of how God had provided for the founding of their ministry, stories of God’s unmistakable faithfulness and guidance, that made my heart soar with the glory of His ways. We got to their property, and they had a separate house all set up just for these babies. They had literally been expecting to get them this very day, which was a surprise to me, since Ryan had said that no one on our end had ever been explicitly clear that any of the kids were coming at all. But it was God’s preparation for snatching us out of the difficulty that we were in. The little house had electricity, its own bathroom, and cribs and pack-n-plays set up to accommodate the children.

God had even overseen little details, like the fact that I unexpectedly “happened” to have two changes of clothes in my bag. I was able to spend the night and take a shower and have a fresh outfit to put on in the morning to get back to the hospital. There was even a cot set up for me to sleep on. I slept soundly and peacefully in a place that seemed like heaven on earth.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 6.
Start over at the beginning: Cholera Day 0

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